We may have spent too much time this week considering Ireland’s scrum half allocation, front-row risks and giving Joe Schmidt Irish citizenship.
In all the furore, we have forgotten that two of Ireland’s golden generation of rugby talent are moving on.
It appears as though have seen the last of Gordon D’Arcy in an Irish jersey. In most generations, D’Arcy would have been the seismic talent, but willingly took a back seat to the greatest outside centre in the Northern Hemisphere since the late 1990’s. The Clongowes man’s story is not one we have heard too often – but nonetheless, it is a fascinating one. He was asked by Warren Gatland to join Ireland’s South Africa touring squad in 1998 on the eve of his leaving certificate, he failed to make the 2003 Rugby World Cup Squad but yet won the player of the tournament in the Six Nations just months later and has returned from catastrophic injuries to flying form.
From 2004 onwards, D’Arcy and O’Driscoll changed the game. The predominant tactic from memory of International sides of the time was a strong crash-ball 12 playing off a flier at 13, one Ireland no longer adhered to. D’Arcy, a gifted “stepper” used his speed and quick offloads to accelerate the attack with O’Driscoll against often elephantine opposition – gargantuan centres like Yannick Jouzion, Damien Traille, Sterling Mortlock, Jean DeVilliers, Jamie Roberts and Mathieu Bastareaud. Most impressively of all though, the diminutive centres became fierce ground competitors, using their smaller size to their advantage, becoming the monarchy of the chop tackle for both Leinster and Ireland while also pilfering ball after ball at the breakdown.
D’Arcy will retire from all rugby in October at the age of thirty five after a career that included 82 Irish caps, two Lions Tours, two Six Nations titles, three Heineken Cups, an Amlin Challenge Cup and four Pro12/Celtic League titles. He leaves the game as Ireland’s longest serving player, overtaking the great Mike Gibson and without a doubt, solidifies his place amongst the most crucial players of the golden generation.
And in looking South, Munster have lost the last of the Province’s Heineken Cup winning side.
Despite this amazing try and slide, Donnacha O’Callaghan was never the most skilled player, or the most eye-catching – but he had an amazing career.
You hit rucks and you mauled your whole career and you don’t drink, you are the worst Barbarians selection of all time (O’Callaghan).
Over the past 17 years, O’Callaghan amassed a total of 268 caps for the Parish, 94 Irish caps, Barbarians appearances and 4 Lions test appearances over two Southern Hemisphere tours. He has collected 2 Heineken Cups, 3 Celtic Leagues, one Six Nations Grand Slam and 4 Triple Crown victories. Now, he is set to join Worcester in England.
While D’Arcy lived as the perfect compliment to O’Driscoll, Donnacha O’Callaghan was the perfect foil for Paul O’Connell. To say the pair were a marauding site is quite the understatement.
As you would expect, O’Callaghan’s parting note had a touch of class, one which the Munster aura seeped out of:
“Playing for both my home province and country has been a dream come true for me and my family, I have loved every moment of it. I leave with a full heart and unbelievable memories.
“I’m forever grateful to those in Munster and Irish Rugby that put the structures in place all the way up, and most importantly, the people that have influenced and shaped me not only as a player but as a person.
“My goal is the same now as it was when I was eight years of age, to play rugby, enjoy it and win. I look forward to earning the respect of the Worcester management, players and supporters.
“Finally I would like to thank the Munster supporters – for over 17 years you have lifted me to play beyond myself and I look forward to going back and joining you in my first role with Munster, as a supporter.”
It fills me with sadness that I can’t find a picture of O’Callaghan online, one which I will never forget. Early on in his career, Munster played against Leicester Tigers – captained by Martin Johnson. A young naive O’Callaghan has recalled the moment in Munster Rugby, The Phenomenon where he became stuck on the wrong side of a ruck, his face looking out from a hoard of strewn body parts. O’Callaghan’s hero, Johnson comes around the corner to clear out the ruck and without pausing, gives the prone and defenceless O’Callaghan a shoeing he never forgot. It’s moments like that which moulded Munster and the characters within it. Without a doubt, those moments were essential and necessary for the brilliance and success which came about in Munster.
Looking around the internet, it’s a sad sight that many of O’Callaghan’s memorable moments haven’t made it to YouTube and the like – but this interview on the Late Late sums most of them up – emblematic of the joker of the Irish pack. Goodbye, Donnacha.